BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The board of education discussed Tuesday a letter they received concerning whether teachers should be releasing information to parents about average grades on individual exams in the classes – and they were divided over whether information about all students’ grades could create too much competition in school.
According to board president Jeffrey Brookner, the email concerned a parent’s desire to know where his child stood in line with the grades of other students on an individual test.
“He wanted to know what his child got on the assignment and the average of what all students got,” he said.
Brookner said he believes there is a need for disclosure and discussion about student grades, although he doesn’t necessarily think that all grades should be disclosed to parents.
“I know there is a bit of a vacuum regarding what a specific grade means,” he said. “I want to make sure that parents and students know what they are doing numerically, and more subjectively about how they are doing.”
Brookner said he doesn’t favor telling teachers how to speak to parents, but that there should be some measure of disclosure to make sure parents understand what specific grades mean in relation to the rest of the class.
The board was divided over whether such information should be released.
“I think there is a big difference between sharing a distribution of grades with high school students, and sharing them with second grade children,” assistant superintendent Cheryl Dyer said. “A review of grades by teachers should happen and does happen, but it’s an administrative responsibility, not a parent responsibility, to make comparisons.”
“I do agree that teachers should provide parents with factual information about how students are doing in a contextual way,” she added.
Board member Evan Lerner said sharing the information might actually be a help, particularly with those students who are not doing well, allowing administrators and parents to be aware of whether those students need additional assistance.
But board member Lynne Hurley said she does not support having grade distributions shared.
“It shouldn’t matter what any other kid did,” she said. “I care about my kid, and by looking at the work, you know what their needs are. I think it makes an atmosphere of negativity and competition, rather than working toward your personal best.”
“If you are on the bottom, you are going to know it,” she added. “It doesn’t mean other children have to find out.”
And board member Aaron Kurdyla said he has heard of teachers reteaching something because they saw that many kids struggled with the particular topic.
“I’m struggling to find the benefit (of sharing grade distributions),” he said. “Is this more for the parents or for the kids?”
Brookner said he thinks that if there was an assignment where all students scored fairly low, the teacher should communicate with the parents so they understand that it was a universal issue to be worked on.
Bridgewater parent Mike Rowe, who wrote the letter that initially started the discussion, said his intent was not to see how his child compared with others necessarily, but just to try to get more information about the nature of the assignment and the work being done. He said he asked the teacher for information, and was told by both her and the supervisor that that information is not given out.
But, Rowe said, he is more interested in seeing how his child is doing in comparison with the amount of work she does and the time she puts in to the schoolwork versus outside activities.
“What my intent was was to recognize that parents are trying to adjust schedules for kids and balance schoolwork against other activities,” he said. “Where a teacher may notice a child is not doing well after six weeks, we know this week what we’ve done.”
Recently, Rowe said, his daughter started dance classes outside of school, and he noticed a slight drop in a test grade. He wants to know, he said, if this is normal for the topic being taught or if there is some kind of outside influence he should be aware of so he can help his daughter.
“We know the problem the first week, and the teacher will notice in week three, but she’ll have fallen behind already,” he said. “It’s my job to know these things. The teacher doesn’t know what is going on in this child’s life outside of the classroom.”
“We are trying to balance our kids’ lives with what they are doing externally to what they are doing in the classroom,” he added. “There are always going to be some kids at the bottom of the curve and always going to be competition. But maybe the teacher didn’t get the topic across that well that day. You’re not giving us the tools to help when we don’t have that information.”
The board did not take any action on this concern as of yet, but is planning to discuss it in committee.